Rhiannon Giddens holding a banjo

Rhiannon Giddens

Black Roots Podcast

Rhiannon Giddens explores the lives of two Black fiddlers, Joe Thompson and Frank Johnson.

Rhiannon Giddens holding a banjo
Rhiannon Giddens

Grammy-winning musician Rhiannon Giddens explores the history of African American roots music through the stories of forgotten Black pioneers.

String bands, hoedowns, square dances, old-time fiddle and banjo styles, these sounds were a dominant strand in African American roots music from the 17th century onwards. Despite this, many people think that such music comes solely from dungaree-wearing, White, rural folk. Country music might appear to be the whitest of all genres, but it has some surprising roots.

How have these Black roots been whitewashed from the history of American folk and country music? How have folk and country been positioned as White genres? What does Black Americana sound like today?

Launched at the end of May 2022, check out episode one, Frank Johnson, Joe Thompson and the fiddle in North Carolina. In this episode, Giddens returns to her home state of North Carolina to explore the lives of two Black fiddlers, Joe Thompson and Frank Johnson.

Frank Johnson was one of the first Black celebrities in the US south. Born into slavery, he bought freedom for himself and his family with money he made playing music. More than 2,000 people attended his funeral in Wilmington, NC in 1871. Though he died before the start of the recording industry, his music was passed down through generations of Black fiddlers in the region. The last of these fiddlers was Joe Thompson, who taught Giddens countless songs.

To listen to the podcast, visit www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0017khr.


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